BALTIMORE — Ravens executive vice president Ozzie Newsome has never been impulsive, and when he speaks his words are usually measured and meaningful.
So, when all this talk started last Friday about additions to the Rooney Rule and NFL teams possibly moving up 16 spots in the third round if they hired an African American general manager, Newsome handled it with his usual poise.
“Am I concerned about the lack of hiring?” said Newsome, the NFL’s first African American general manager when asked about the lack of minorities as general managers, head coaches and coordinators in the NFL. “Yes, I am. But I fully understand there is a sincere effort to change the hiring process.”
According to published reports Tuesday morning, the NFL has expanded the Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003, to now include interviewing at least two external minority candidates for a head coaching position and at least one minority for a coordinator’s job. One minority or female candidate must be interviewed for all senior-level positions.
That’s all a minority or any candidate ever wants: an opportunity.
The announcements were positive moves by the NFL, but it’s sad and disappointing that this is still an issue in 2020. It appeared the NFL had moved beyond this at the turn of the century but apparently it didn’t, which is why it was offering an incentive for hiring an African American general manager.
That in itself was embarrassing to blacks, and to the NFL.
“It was offensive, definitely offensive,” said former Ravens defensive coordinator and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. “It was like having Jim Crow laws.”
That was as ugly as some of the hiring practices of NFL owners, who still form one of the oldest good-old-boy networks in the country. A league that is composed of nearly 70% African American players has only three black head coaches and two general managers among its 32 teams.
A record number of eight minority head coaches were in the league in 2017. But now there are only three black head coaches and the Washington Redskins’ Ron Rivera is the only Latino head coach.
“We had come a long way as far as assistant coaches, but we never made any inroads in management,” Lewis said. “This will be a plus requiring more than one minority to be interviewed because it will cause them to take a deeper dive. This will allow more minorities more opportunities.”
It’s like the civil rights movement where the process has to be forever moving ahead. Once there is complacency, the old ways and errors start to resurface because the predominantly white owners can’t think outside of the box. For decades, owners put out that the reason African Americans were overlooked as head coaches was that they lacked experience as NFL coordinators.
But yet the Arizona Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury out of Texas Tech as their head coach in January of 2019 and the Carolina Panthers signed Matt Rhule out of Baylor as their head coach four months ago. Both are white.
Meanwhile, two top African American NFL coordinators — Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier — can’t get head coaching jobs.
It’s also no coincidence that a lot of former African American head coaches don’t get second opportunities to be head coaches in the NFL. You can go back as far as Art Shell with the Oakland Raiders and move forward with Lewis and Vance Joseph. It’s so bad that former Oakland and Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson can’t even get another job in the league as a coordinator despite his reputation as being one of the better offensive minds in the league.
Jackson and Lewis are strong-minded individuals. A lot of head coaches fear assistants with strong personalities, especially black ones. They feel threatened especially with so many black players on the roster.
They might have a different opinion if there were more black general managers, but owners won’t rehire them either, guys such as Jerry Reese or Rick Smith, or new ones with potential such as Vince Newsome.
Part of the problem is the role of sports agents as power brokers in team affairs. Once their client is selected as a president or general manager, then they try to get their other clients named as the head coach and coordinator.
It’s big business in the NFL.
“That’s the shame of it all,” Lewis said. “A lot of people are being cut out.”
Lewis and coaches appear to favor another change such as the one that would allow assistant coaches to be interviewed at any time for coordinator jobs because it would allow more opportunities for minorities.
As for providing a draft pick for clubs that hire a minority as a general manager, Lewis only laughed. According to reports that move was tabled by the owners Tuesday.
“Draft picks are like gold,” Lewis said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. As a head coach, no one wants to be hired or put in that position.”
This really shouldn’t have gotten this far. The league didn’t make any bold moves Tuesday but at least steps were taken in the right direction. That’s part of the reason Newsome is still with the Ravens. Nearly a year and a half ago he had a chance to retire after 15 seasons as the team’s general manager.
Some say Newsome stayed because of his passion for the game and that he loved the competition.
That’s true, but Newsome also saw that the league had gone away from hiring African Americans and other minorities in key positions. He had worked on numerous committees within the league office over the years to change that, so he knew he had a voice and the fight was still on.
There is still work to be done. A lot of it.
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